39 – WARTIME DEBT

Many of you have seen the excellent “Crown” mini-series on Netflix and are curious about Britain’s post-war economic problems which plagued the government in the 1960s and 70s. The economic costs of the war were enormous. Six years of warfare and the heavy losses of merchant shipping were bad enough, but Britain lost a sizeable chunk of its export trade after the war. Gold and currency reserves were depleted and most of Britain’s overseas assets were sold off. The situation got so bad that after the Lend-lease program was terminated, Britain had to borrow an additional $3.75 billion from the US at two-percent interest to pay for essential supplies. The trade imbalance with the US was so unequal that the government was obliged to extend rationing to preserve their supply of US dollars to service the debt repayments. British goods and produce were prioritized for export markets and rationing continued on until 1954.

Even grants for British industry from the Marshall Plan were used to service debt repayments. Over time, this put British industry at a major disadvantage because their French and German competitors used the money to invest in infrastructure and modernize their own industries while Britain did nothing. Germany and France may not have won the war and, of course, both were devastated by the war, but they certainly won the peace.

After WWII, the British government owed £21 billion (C$36 billion) for its war loans. Today, that debt would be worth some £940 billion (C$1.6 trillion). It took the British government exactly sixty years to reimburse the war debt with a final payment of £45 million in 2006. Remember the Montreal Olympic fiasco in 1976. The 1970 estimate for the Games was that it would cost C$120 million in total, with C$71 million budgeted for the Olympic Stadium itself. In reality, it cost C$1.6 billion, a more than 13-fold increase, due to poor planning, incompetence, outright fraud, strikes and hubris. It took the Quebec government some thirty years to reimburse the cost of this mega disaster mainly from cigarette taxes.

Canada has had its share of boondoggles. In fact, we are champions in project overruns for infrastructure projects. Remember the Mirabel airport, the 407 Express toll road, B.C.’s fast ferries, the new Champlain bridge project, the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project, the Montreal REM public transit system, and, perhaps to come, the Quebec City tramway project which is estimated to cost C$3.3 billion to upgrade an already excellent public transport system by bus. In recent months, the Canadian government has embarked on a colossal boondoggle which will make all the others look like chump change. It has chalked up an amount of debt to the tune of around C$400 billion within a single year to pay for relief measures for the coronavirus pandemic. Every day of the week it is spending around C$1.8 billion, more than the cost of the 1976 Olympic Games. The COVID pandemic is not yet over and will continue well into 2022, the time to inoculate some 70% of the population.

The question is how long will it take us to reimburse such a load of debt. Interest rates are low today, but inflation will increase the cost of borrowing when we come out of the COVID cloud. It would not surprise me if it takes fifty years for our government to reimburse such a huge amount and the final cost might be above C$4.4 trillion if interest rates return to a healthy 5%. What will happen if we are involved in a costly war or a second pandemic with a high R0 number (like measles at 12 to 18). We won’t have any funds left to provide economic relief to our citizens.

The spendthrift Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has promised not to raise taxes in 2021 and the NDP under Jagmeet Singh is counting on a wealth tax on Canadian assets to help balance the budget. Rich families would be taxed 1% on wealth exceeding C$20 million annually. The Parliamentary Budget Office has estimated that a wealth tax would bring in C$5.6 million in 2020/21 increasing to C$6.8 million in 2023/24. A drop in the bucket, enough to pay for about 3 days of our government’s expenses. Furthermore, there has been no cutting back in government services and expenses over the last twelve months. This is the first thing that happens in private enterprise when a company is losing money or hit with unforeseen expenses. You reduce your costs by sending out pink slips. You reduce your overhead and your work force. Not so with government. There is no talk about increasing income tax, sales tax, property taxes, etc. What would Tommy Douglas think of all this? He was a democratic socialist and Premier of Saskatchewan for 17 years. He invented government-funded health insurance in 1947 and paid off the provincial debt by putting aside 10% of the provincial budget each year to pay off the debt. Where are the Tommy Douglas’s in government today?

Where will all this lead? No one in government is serious about our increasing debt load. In the future our grandchildren may have to ration food to get by as they pay off the massive loans of our national and provincial governments.

 

38 – THROW TRUMP IN JAIL

It is very frustrating to see the mob who ransacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, get up to twenty years in prison and pay huge fines, while Trump and his political cronies walk away without any charges. Many of these people are going to face a judicial saga totally out of proportion to their misbehaviour. Of course, some were bent on violence and will have to pay for their crimes, but most of them were simply naïve Pro-Trumpers having a good time in D.C. Meanwhile the Senate trial of Donald Trump is not even a criminal trial. The ex-President loses nothing but his right to hold public office again, if he is convicted. The question is whether the DOJ in Washington will charge Trump and his political cronies of seditious conspiracy, election fraud, and insurrection.

He certainly committed seditious conspiracy “by forcing to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.” This is the text of Title 18 of the US criminal code which deals with sedition. It is clear that Trump and his cronies crossed several red lines here. His aim, of course, was to prevent the registration of the votes in Congress and to seize the Capitol building to force out Nancy Pelosi and the democrats. Clearly the people on the ground, the mob who invaded the Capitol, are going to pay a very heavy price for their actions. The federal government doesn’t mess around when it comes to arresting and charging the small fry.

But what about John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, Paul Gosar, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Ali Alexander? These are the guys who organized the “Stop the Steal” movement and planned the DC rally. They encouraged the protesters to sack the Capitol. They have declined to comment on their actions during the riot and today are playing hard to find.

There have been numerous cases of sedition in the US and Canada. The sedition act was used against communists, neo-Nazis and terrorists like the prominent Muslim cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman in 1995. The government used it against the Puerto Rican Nationalist Carmen Valentin Perez and nine others for attempting to overthrow the government of the United States and were handed down sentences of up to 90 years in prison. The sedition conspiracy act was used in Canada after the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 to lock up seven labour leaders who were convicted of trying to topple the government. The sedition laws were used to lock up the Mayor of Montreal Camillien Houde in 1940 when he campaigned against conscription. He had publicly urged young men to ignore the National Registration Act. He was placed under arrest for sedition and confined without trial in internment camps in Petawawa, Ontario and Ripples, New Brunswick until the end of the war.

Sedition is a crime against the State and was thought to have serious consequences. The use of treasonable words in the Middle Ages could lead to peasant revolts against the monarchy and one could be hanged or beheaded if convicted. Today, in the US it seems anybody with political affiliations or great wealth can simply ignore the laws of sedition and hide behind their First Amendment rights to free speech. Only the little people pay the price of sedition.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, it would not be easy to prove a case of seditious conspiracy in court against Donald J. Trump. Election fraud, on the other hand, would be a slam dunk according to the authors. Trump tried to force Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, to find enough votes to overturn the election in Georgia in his favour. The entire phone call was recorded and released to the news media. Legal scholars described it as a flagrant abuse of power and potentially a criminal act. The question is when is the DOJ in Washington going to get its act together and go after Trump and his cronies.

37 – THE PAPAL UNDERCARRIAGE OR GROPING THE POPE

I don’t know whether any of you are fans of The Borgias television series which stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI. I’m a big fan and have seen most of the episodes either in French or in English. In the first episode, which I saw the last week (I don’t always get to watch the series in chronological order), Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia is busy bribing the other cardinals to get their vote for the election of the new pope. After Rodrigo becomes pope and starts poisoning his enemies, he has to pass a crucial test for the papacy.

When I saw this scene at the end of episode 1, I thought it was a joke. The Pope is invited to sit on a sort of wooden seat with a hole in the middle while his cardinals look on. A servant brings a bowl of water and my first impression was that he was going to wash the Pope’s feet, but no, the servant gropes the pope’s undercarriage and then exclaims in a loud voice: “habet duos testiculos et bene pendentes” meaning he has two well-hung testicles.

I couldn’t believe they were checking to make sure the pope was a man and had not been castrated heaven forbid. It appears that the test was introduced after Pope Joan’s ascension to the papacy in the 9th century. A German woman, Agnes, managed to get herself elected as “Pope John”. Her subterfuge was only learned when she gave birth in a procession to St John Lateran between the Colosseum and the San Clemente Basilica in Rome.

It is believed that the test is still employed today. Men who had deliberately castrated themselves were not acceptable as good pope material, but those who had been involuntarily castrated were acceptable.

The reference for this historical nugget is Alain Boureau’s “The Myth of Pope Joan”. The mediaeval sources relating to the legend of Pope Joan and the masculinity test were collected together in 1600 by the German scholar Johann Wolf in his book: “Sixteen centuries of memorable and abstruse reading matter.”

Talk about a fascinating piece of history.

Have a nice week.

 

 

36 – THE GOLDEN AGE OF RAILWAYS

This week I am finishing up my screenplay “Johnny Reb in Montreal” about the manhunt across the province of Quebec of Lt Bennett Young and his Confederate soldier friends. This is the story of the St. Albans, Vermont raid and the trial in Montreal of the Confederate raiders. After being released from the Pied-du-Courant prison in Montreal in December 1864, the lieutenant and his men were re-arrested just before Christmas on the border with New Brunswick.

Take a look at this map of the Central Vermont Railroad in 1879. It’s quite amazing the rail network that existed in Quebec at the time thanks to the Grand Trunk Railway Company. For instance, you could travel from Portland, Maine through Montreal all the way to Sarnia, Ontario in the 1860s. The Portland track was built to give Montreal access to a seaport during the long winter months when the St. Lawrence River was frozen up. You could take a train from just about anywhere in the Eastern Townships to Montreal and east to Rivière-du-Loup and south through Vermont to New York or Boston or west to Buffalo. Of course, there was no railway to Quebec City or on to Halifax until much later. These were mainly narrow track railways and the number of rail companies is amazing.

While I was doing my research for the screenplay, I had to take into account all the travel possibilities available to the lieutenant at the time. One author describes George Brown, the owner of the Globe Newspaper and one of the fathers of the Canadian Confederation, returning to Toronto from London after meeting with British Prime Minister Palmerston. After a two-week transatlantic voyage, Brown arrived in New York City and the following day was back in Toronto. I asked myself whether this was possible at the time. Today, it would not be possible by train, but only by air. In 1865, Brown could have taken the train from New York to the top of the state and then gone west to Buffalo which was connected to Windsor and Toronto. Or he could have chosen to go north through Montreal and then west. The Victoria Bridge in Montreal had been built in 1859 to carry the passenger trains across the river.

When you ponder public transportation in and around Montreal today, there has been little or no improvement since 1860. Remember they had horsecars (horse-drawn tramways) in Montreal at the time which were precursors of the motorized streetcars that came later. You could travel just about anywhere by train. It is not surprising that Quebeckers fell in love with the Maine seaside since you could take a train to Portland and on to Old Orchard and other seaside ports, travelling through the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Have a nice week.

See photo of a Toronto horsecar below:

35 – THE BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY IN A PANDEMIC

In the summer of 1485, at the start of the reign of Henry VII, a previously unseen  disease started to spread across England. It was believed that it was brought to England by French mercenaries in Henry Tudor’s army. Henry Tudor arrived in London shortly after the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485 and the ‘sweating sickness’ was first reported there less than three weeks later. It ran rampant through London, killing thousands and striking panic in the population. One of the most terrifying features of the disease was the speed with which it could kill. Some of you may remember the moving scene in Hilary Mantel’s novel and the television drama mini-series, Wolf Hall, when the disease struck the family of Thomas Cromwell. He returns home to find his wife and two young daughters are dead hours after catching the disease.

The cholera epidemic of 1832 was similar to the “English sweat” that afflicted Londoners and Europeans during the time of the Tudors. People were terrified by the horrific symptoms which seemed to afflict victims instantly. People caught the bug in the morning and were declared dead by supper time. There was no known cure for cholera and the sense of panic among the population was palpable. When our loved ones are struck down by illness within hours, we lose our heads and any rational sense of order. Fear leads to panic and the breakdown of society. Family members turned against family members, friends against friends, and soon everyone was out for themselves. Cholera victims were simply abandoned on the roads, and wagons were sent around to collect the bodies and bury them in cholera pits. The population lived in absolute fear of the epidemic and normal rules no longer applied.

The collapse of society often happens in cases of natural catastrophe, war, pestilence, etc. What do people do when things start falling apart? They revert to primal behaviour, every man for himself. That’s the theme of The Walking Dead. At least that’s the theory, but it is not always true. Remember the movie Lord of the Flies based on the novel by William Golding back in 1954 about a group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island. It presents a very bleak view of mankind, returning to nature. The boys form into groups and three boys die as a result before a British naval officer arrives on the island and saves them. The story was loosely based on a real adventure involving several young Tongan boys stranded on an island in the Pacific and things didn’t turn out so badly for these boys. Their story was more about friendship and loyalty. They worked together to survive and no one died.

Of course, the breakdown of society can happen even today with an economic downturn. For years now, people have been predicting an economic collapse in the US due to the huge debt level. If the US dollar ever takes a dive, there will be a global panic. The doomsayers maintain that massive unemployment would be the result and governments would no longer be able to pay their employees. Local communities would suffer because their tax base would disappear. They would no longer be able to pay their police departments, garbage disposal, and other services. People would take to the streets to protect themselves and fight over access to food and supplies. The 2020 coronavirus is bringing us closer to such a reality with the burgeoning debt levels in the US and the stress on the dollar.

My fourth novel Remembrance Man is now out on paperback and ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. This is a tale of murder, greed and deceit, and the breakdown of society. It is interesting to see how little progress civilized society has made in the face of pandemics. We deal with them no better than our grandparents did during the influenza outbreak of 1918 and the 19th century cholera epidemics.

Have a nice week.

34 – LANCASHIRE LADS ABOARD AN ENGLISH MAN-OF-WAR

I remember visiting the HMS Victory in Portsmouth as an English schoolboy. The Battle of Trafalgar and Lord Nelson’s heroic demise had everything to attract the interest of young English boys. So it is not surprising that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Patrick O’Brian naval war novels about the adventures of Captain Aubrey and his surgeon friend, Dr Maturin. I recently finished the eighth in the series, The Ionian Mission, about Captain Aubrey’s service with the British squadron blockade of Toulon in 1813. To entertain the men on board Aubrey’s ship, the Worcester, an oratorio was organized using whatever musical talents were available among the crew. After a search, it was revealed that five young lads from Lancashire were word-perfect in Handel’s Messiah, having sung it numerous times in their homeland. O’Brian provides such a wonderful image of these poor lads on board a man-of-war during the Napoleonic wars:

They were poor thin little undernourished creatures with only a few blue teeth among them, though young: they had been taken up (by the press gang) for combining with others to ask for higher wages and sentenced to transportation; but as they were somewhat less criminal than those who had made the demand they were allowed to join the Navy instead. They had gained by the change, particularly as the Worcester was a comparatively humane ship; yet at first they were hardly aware of their happiness. The diet was more copious than any they had ever known. Six pounds of meat per week (though long preserved, bony and full of gristle), seven pounds of biscuits (though infested) would have filled them out in their youth, to say nothing of the seven gallons of beer in the Channel or seven pints of wine in the Mediterranean; but they had lived so long on bread, potatoes and tea that they could scarcely appreciate it, particularly as their nearly toothless gums could hardly mumble salt horse and biscuit with any profit. What is more, they were the very lowest form of life on board, landlubbers to the ultimate degree – had never seen even a duckpond in their lives – ignorant of everything and barely acknowledged as human by the older men-of-war’s men – objects to be attached to the end of a swab or a broom, occasionally allowed, under strict supervision, to lend their meagre weight in hauling in a rope. Yet after the first period of dazed and often seasick wretchedness they learnt to cut their beef right small with a purser’s jackknife and pound it with a marlin-spike; they learnt some of the ways of the ship; and their spirits rose wonderfully when they came to sing.

The O’Brian novels provide an extraordinary glance into our nautical past and are rich in imagery.

33 – SHOTGUNS, DOGTROTS AND SODDIES

The John Looney House, Ashville, Alabama. Wikipedia

In my historical research for my upcoming novel “Remembrance Man”, I have come across several unique kinds of dwellings that existed back in 1832. I have always been interested in early North American architecture. I would often wonder how Southerners in the 19th century kept cool during their long hot summers. Today, of course, you have air-conditioning in every American building, so the architecture is not required to perform a cooling function. When you have a blackout for a week or two after a hurricane, well then you’ve got a real problem. Many modern buildings will quickly overheat and can even kill older residents who are sensitive to the heat and lack of air circulation. Often the windows in these buildings cannot be opened.

Evidently, 1950s style architecture in the US and Canada is grossly inadequate and not designed to keep the residents cool in the summer. In the South of France it can get up to forty degrees °C in the summer and many older houses were designed to combat extreme heat. In Bordeaux, I’ve seen long apartment dwellings with a central corridor extending from front to back to permit the breeze to cool down the building. You can see this by the design of the front doors which are often made of a metal frame with swing-out sections that can be opened at night to allow air to penetrate apartments.

Before air-conditioning, how did people keep cool? The ‘dogtrot’ or breezeway house was common in the Southern states in the 19th and 20th centuries. A dogtrot house consisted of two log cabins connected by a breezeway or ‘dogtrot’ under a common roof. The breezeway and open windows in the rooms allowed air currents to pull in cooler air into the living quarters before the existence of air-conditioning.

Mississippi John Hurt Museum, in Avalon, Mississippi. Wikipedia

Another example of clever architecture is the shotgun house. These houses were very narrow with the front door leading into the living room, the bedrooms and the kitchen at the back. The rooms were lined up one behind the other. Early shotguns were not built with bathrooms, although they were often added to the kitchen in the back in later years. These houses were cheap to build and designed to allow air currents to cool down the residents during hot summers. It is believed that the shotgun house originated in New Orleans in the early 1800s and became popular after the American Civil war and up until the 1920s. The term shotgun may refer to the fact that if all the doors are open, you can fire a shotgun through the front door and the blast will fly cleanly out the back.

The Seward Plantation House — near Independence, in Washington County, Texas. Wikipedia.

One cannot ignore the architecture of the plantation house or the antebellum home. The main characteristic of these houses were the huge pillars in the front, the balcony that ran along the outside edge of the house that created a shaded porch and sitting area, the huge windows and the big central entrance at the front and the back of the house. These houses were built for the comfort of the residents who could follow the shade on the balcony or the porch as the sun moved around the house. The large windows helped create air currents that cooled the house.

Photo taken at Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life. Replica sod house built from information gathered from the 1995 excavation of the original.

And finally, a very primitive kind of dwelling was the soddy or sod house whose walls were built with patches of sod cut in rectangular shapes and piled one on top of another to serve as walls. Sharecroppers would build these houses using whatever material they could find. Without wood, they would sometimes cut a wall into the side of a hill and use that as a foundation wall. This worked well on the windswept prairie. Sod houses required frequent maintenance due to rain damage. And finally, the thatched roof was common in parts of Western Canada including Manitoba. A thatched roof would often last longer than a roof made from oak shingles.

Early Saskatchewan sod house, Wikipedia

 

Have a nice week.

32 – THE 1832 CHOLERA PANDEMIC

I’m coming, I’m coming the scourge of mankind,
I float on the waters, I ride on the wind,
Great hunger and squalor prepare my dread way,
In the homes of the wretched my sceptre I sway,
In filthy, damp alleys and courts I reign,
O’er the dark stagnant pool and putrid drain.

James Withers,1853.

With the coronavirus sweeping around the world, past pandemics have taken on new interest. My novel Remembrance Man about the 1832 Cholera epidemic is in its final polish stage and will be out by the summer.

I found my research into the period of the early 19th century fascinating. There were a lot of things happening at the time: the development of railways, the Erie Canal, the industrial revolution, developments in medicine and science, and the Second Great Awakening. The Protestant revival movement with their camp meetings were popping across the US and in Great Britain. There was the famous Cane Ridge revival meeting in the summer of 1801, which was held in a log cabin church in the backwoods of Kentucky. Some 25,000 people were in attendance. The people came from all walks of life from around the US and convened in this tiny church in the woods.

In my novel, we have our own Methodist revival meeting in the woods. I was particularly interested in the mourner’s bench (or anxious bench) during camp meetings which was placed at the centre of the congregation adjacent to the pulpit in full view of everyone. This is where would-be converts would contemplate their decision for Christ. The mourner’s bench allowed for the dramatic conversion of sinners, including intense praying, exhortations by the preacher and other previously converted Christians, crying, singing, proclamations of guilt and shame, involuntary spasms, visions and trances. In the end, the camp meeting experience was both a personal journey from unbelief to faith and a public declaration of a commitment to change one’s life.

So it’s been a very pleasurable six months rewriting my original text for the Remembrance Man novel and doing the historical research.

Have a nice week.

31- THE RUDOLF HESS DNA FIASCO

In January 2019, the New Scientist in London announced that the US Army has solved the mystery around the identity of the Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess. The article maintained that a blood sample was taken from Hess back in 1982 by US Army doctor Philip Pittman during a routine health check at Spandau Prison in Berlin. A pathologist mounted some of the blood on a microscope slide to perform a cell count and named the slide “Spandau #7”. It was hermetically sealed and kept for teaching purposes at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC.

This sounded very convincing almost 12 months ago, but has since been debunked by numerous sources. From the blood smear a molecular biologist at the University of Salzburg in Austria succeeded in extracting the DNA and soon the scientists were busy looking for a Hess family member after the son, Wolf Rüdiger Hess, had died. They turned to the discredited British historian, David Irving, who provided various phone numbers and from there, they were able to make a match with an unnamed Bavarian member of the Hess family.

What makes this match so suspect is the origin of the blood smear and the unnamed person who provided the Hess family DNA. Hugh Thomas, the author of “The Murder of Rudolf Hess”, wrote in February 2019 the following: “the decision of the Austrian researchers not to reveal either the genotype  or haplotype of this DNA and to admit that their sample was for a time in  the custody of the Hess family and delivered to the Austrian researchers  by an unnamed member of that politically suspect family undermines the  provenance of both samples.” The technician who did the work in the laboratory mentioned that the blood looked “remarkably fresh” for a 37-year old sample and had no trouble doing the DNA extraction.

It is highly unlikely that any American medical officer would be allowed to do a routine health check on prisoner #7 when all four nations involved in running Spandau were required to be present. A doctor for each of the four powers would have had to be in the room during any such routine health checkup. For a long time, the British government has had excellent DNA samples of Hess which were taken during his post-mortem examination in the UK back in the late 1980s. They could easily do these DNA tests and  compare samples, but have refused to do so. There was never really any need for this bogus DNA confirmation from the Austrian research laboratory.

And finally, after all the medical evidence proving that the man in Spandau was an imposter, there was the surprising evidence provided by a retired Manchester orthodontist, Hans Eirew, who wrote in an email in February 2019 the following: “During 1950/51 I was the British Army dental officer at Berlin military hospital. One of my responsibilities was the dental care of the war criminals at Spandau jail. I had to extract a left upper molar for the very weird prisoner introduced as Rudolf Hess, at his insistence standing up and without pain killing injection. Later I had access to the full official Nazi party medical records for the real Rudolf Hess, going back to his gunshot wounds in WW1. They showed that he had lost his upper left molar teeth early and had an artificial metal bridge where I was deemed to have extracted a tooth. My suspicions were supported by the fact that the other prisoners appeared to have very little contact with No.7 Hess. I am in full support of Dr Hugh Thomas, who was then the most tested army gunshot expert with wide experience in Northern Ireland and who provided medical evidence that the man at Spandau was a “ringer’.”

So it appears that the Hess family or some other source is trying to manipulate the media with this highly suspect DNA study. As the author Joseph Farrell has suggested that “the Hess Mess doesn’t go away by simply waving the DNA wand.”

 

30 – THE BARBARA ALLEN SONG

This week I have been working on my new book and, as usual, research is an important part of this work. The novel entitled “Remembrance Man” is about the cholera epidemic in 1832. Most of us don’t remember the great pandemics of previous centuries and how awful they were. For those of you living in Quebec, the ‘blue death’ as it was called killed some 3,000 people during the summer of 1832 in Quebec City. The population at the time was only about 20,000 people so 15% of the population fell victim to cholera in a very short period from June to September. A lot of them were immigrants arriving by the boatload (50,000 people arrived in the city that summer). Imagine the fear and the housing chaos.

A moving song

I recently discovered this wonderful song interpreted by Joan Baez entitled “Barbara Allen”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqHJ4V893e0

“Barbara Allen” is a traditional Scottish ballad that later travelled to America where it became a popular folk song. It is referred to in the diary of Samuel Pepys in 1666 and is by far the most widely collected song in the English language with hundreds of versions sung over the years. The lyrics are as follows:

“Twas in the merry month of May
When green buds all were swelling,
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling,
Saying you must come, to my master dear
If your name be Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly she drew nigh him,
And the only words to him did say
Young man I think you’re dying.

He turned his face unto the wall
And death was in him welling,
Goodbye, goodbye, to my friends all
Be good to Barbara Allen.

When he was dead and laid in grave
She heard the death bells knelling
And every stroke to her did say
Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

Oh mother, oh mother, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died of love for me
And I will die of sorrow.

And father, oh father, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died on yesterday
And I will die tomorrow.

Barbara Allen was buried in the old churchyard
Sweet William was buried beside her,
Out of sweet William’s heart, there grew a rose
Out of Barbara Allen’s a briar.

They grew and grew in the old churchyard
Till they could grow no higher
At the end they formed, a true lover’s knot
And the rose grew round the briar.”

I was moved by this song as I am sure you will be too. Imagine two young people cut down by the ‘black death’ in the 17th century or by some other awful scourge.

 

Have a nice week.